Foundations of Music Education


Lecture:  Introduction to Foundations of Music Education

Syllabus    Course Outline


What is the purpose of education?


Herbert Read (1943) stated in Education Through Art, that there are only two possible purposes:

". . . one, that man should be educated to become what he is; the other, that he should be educated to become what he is not"

The first alternative refers to the development of one's potential.

The second alternative refers to the use of education to indoctrinate.


Indoctrination is not

necessarily a bad thing. 

Teaching a child to share a toy is indoctrination

as opposed to developing his/her potential to have the most toys

by taking everyone else's toys away!


But each instance of indoctrination can be scrutinized. 

Have you been indoctrinated by music education, or by the culture that has produced your music education? 

Are you perpetuating the same indoctrination?  Have you ever said,

"That's the way I was taught."

"That's the way we've always done it."


Think of some of the questions that an alien landing from Mars might ask about music in our schools.




Why are there only 12 pitches on a piano?
Why do your scales most typically have only 7 notes?
Who decided where those half steps would be?

Why are there only 3 chords in so many songs?


Could you answer those questions? Or, have you always just taken it for granted that it should be that way?


Oh wait - the alien has more questions:   



Why do you choose those instruments?
Why do you teach marching band, but not rock band?
Why do you teach choral music, but not vocal improvisation?

Why don't all students study music?

Why don't most students continue to make music after their school years?

Those are a little tougher.  The purpose in asking these questions from the perspective of an outsider is to

question all assumptions.

In an article inaugurating The Society for Music Teacher Education in 1985, Charles Leonhard urged higher education to

"Challenge all aspects of the program.  Consider each course and define how it leads to better teaching" (Leonhard, 1985).

From a larger perspective, the challenge to us as music educators might be to

Challenge all aspects of music education.  Consider each assumption and define how it leads to enriching the lives of all students.

What are your objectives in music education?


We often start with a goal in mind.  Let's take a real life example:


Image:Marching band in Texas State Fair parade 2007.jpg

nce upon a time, there was a high school band in the Eastern part of the U.S. They were somewhat renowned and spent their school year preparing for and competing in parades. They learned a few marches very well and played the same ones at each parade. The director did much of the teaching by rote. The band was esteemed by the community and the members were popular in their school. The goal was to bring home trophies and toward that end, they were very successful. However, following this very successful music education experience, the band members were unable to read music, they had no functional understanding of musical form, history, theory, aesthetics, or music's value to society outside their 'parade' experience. And, after their school experience was over, they had no ability to continue to be musically active.

What assumptions are being made by this music program?

You may be saying, "Well, that's just the way it is.  Many music programs are performance-driven. 

Funding from the schools depends upon the success of the organization as reflected by winning awards and trophies."

Well, maybe . . .

The main thing in this case,

And the main thing in this course

is to



"The unexamined life is not worth living."



"Test everything; retain what is good."

--I Thessalonians 5:21 (NAB)

This is just a short introduction to the course.  Next week we will study the History of Music Education.

If you have extra time this week, you can begin reading Chapter 1 in your textbook.


Works Cited

Leonhard, Charles. 1985. Toward Reform in Music Teacher Education. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education 81 (Winter 1985):10-17.

Read, Herbert. 1943. Education Through Art. London: Faber & Faber.



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